Hands on with the Retina MacBook Pro

When I first heard about the MacBook Pro with Retina display at the WWDC, I can’t deny I was a little excited.

The first time I saw an iPhone 4 back in the summer of 2010, it ruined me. Every time I looked at my then one year old iPhone 3GS display, all I could see were pixels. Just pixels, pixels, everywhere. Up until that moment I had been perfectly content with my phone, but now I was embarrassed to pull it out of my pocket, knowing it had a sub-standard display.

The following March, expectation was high for a Retina enabled iPad 2. At the time though, Apple decided to focus the marketing priorities on speed, size and weight. It was a disappointing moment, but one which was understandable. It was clear the company hadn’t developed a process to enable them to develop a 2048×1536 pixel display with more pixels than a 1920 x 1080 Full HD television all in the space of just 9.7 inches.

Earlier this year, Apple finally delivered the ‘new iPad’ with just those specifications – a doubling of the pixels in each direction, with every pixel now being described by four. As soon as I first saw the screen I could clearly see it was a huge improvement over the previous generation. It appeared much brighter compared with the now apparently slightly washed out screen of the iPad 2 (although up to that point I hadn’t noticed before) and everything just looked much sharper. At 264 pixels per inch, both images and text seemed almost as good as printed versions. Although this didn’t match the 326 pixels per inch figure achieved by the iPhone 4 and 4S, the difference was negligible, and when considered in conjunction with the much larger screen space it seemed fairly irrelevant.

Today I visited the Apple Store in Regent Street, central London to view the new MacBook Pro. My previous experiences with Retina class displays had up to that point been very positive, so I had much to look forward to. However, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. It seems that the 220 pixel per inch display just doesn’t have the sharpness that the latest generations of the iPhone and iPad have. Although this figure is still impressive for any display, it just doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor we’ve come to expect from Apple of late. Releasing the screen under the Retina name seems to dilute the brand a little.

For a 15.4 inch display, the resolution seems too high. Although it’s great for any image work, any office suite work will leave you reaching for a magnifying glass and leave you with eyestrain soon after. Perhaps this is done to cover up the fact that many programs won’t have high-resolution graphics, and so the smaller they are, the less users will notice. I’d have preferred Apple to have stuck to a more conventional resolution, perhaps 1280 x 800 and then double the pixels in each direction from that starting point.

Aside from the disappointing display, the specifications aren’t particularly exciting as Apple has spent most of the budget on the flat panel. For £1,799 you get only 8GB of RAM and 256GB of Flash RAM, and no optical drive. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to spend that much when the main selling point is so lacklustre.

Rather uncharacteristically for the company, it looks like Apple are now in the market for supplying Christmas dinners this year, as it looks like the new Retina MacBook is a bit of a turkey.

Apple WWDC keynote announcements

Today’s keynote presentation at the WWDC in San Francisco has brought a huge number of announcements, addressing both Apple’s hardware and software range.

As expected, iOS 6 was launched at the event, with several new innovations.

Apple has a whole new Maps app, with a new 3D flyover feature for large cities – providing far greater detail than a satellite image. The new Maps app also supports ‘turn by turn’ navigation, as seen on traditional satellite navigation devices. Whether Google Maps will be downloadable from the App Store will be very interesting to see.

FaceTime will now be permitted over mobile networks – video calling is something that 3G networks were originally marketed for, before the explosion of the mobile web.

Siri has been greatly expanded in iOS 6, and is now being introduced to the new iPad for the first time. It’s now possible to tweet and post Facebook updates and launch applications directly with the tool.

Shared Photo Streams allow users to share photos easily from the Photos app. If the other user is using iCloud, they are delivered automatically.

A new Passbook app allows barcodes and coupons to be stored safely in one place, rather than having to locate them amongst several hundred emails at the ticket barrier, or having to print them out unnecessarily. This could be really useful for theme parks such as Thorpe Park, which uses a bar code system to grant access to the attraction. The app uses geolocation to determine when the user is close, and can pop up a notification on the home screen.

The Phone app, which has been almost untouched since the first release of the iPhone, is now being updated in iOS 6. There’s a new ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature, allowing users to schedule a ‘Quiet Hours’ period where all notifications are suppressed. Anyone who has been woken by a call or text in the middle of the night (almost everyone) will welcome this feature. It’s possible to define a ‘Favourites’ list who are allowed to call during this period.

Support for the original iPad has been dropped with this release, although the older 3GS will be offered the upgrade. This is because Apple is still selling the 3GS in its stores, while the first iPad has been discontinued. iOS 6 will be released this autumn, almost certainly around the time of a new iPhone.

On the hardware side, the MacBook Air is being updated with faster Intel processors and a new 512GB solid state drive option. It’ll now come with USB3 ports, in addition to Thunderbolt.

There’s an all-new MacBook Pro with a 15″ 2880×1800 Retina class display, while the current generation has been granted faster processors and graphics. Interestingly, there’s no optical drive in the new version. It appears Apple isn’t interested in supporting Blu ray on the Mac, though that’s understandable (if not excusable) as they’d rather customers purchase HD content through iTunes instead.

Mac OS X Mountain Lion will be made available next month in the App Store for just £13.99, and free for any customers who purchase a new Mac from today. Siri’s voice recognition feature will be included, though it won’t be able to process any requests such as creating calendar events. The other features, such as Notification Center have already previously been announced.

It’s interesting to take a step back and examine just how wide Apple’s portfolio is now. We’re in for a great year of new releases – now we’re just waiting on solid news of the new iPhone.